Geolocation data offers new insight on popular areas visited by locals, tourists

New data provides a new perspective on Hawaii’s post-pandemic tourism recovery.
Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 6:40 AM HST|Updated: Nov. 10, 2022 at 8:15 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - New data provides a new perspective on Hawaii’s post-pandemic tourism recovery.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority is using geolocation data from smartphones to see where the most visited sights are across the state.

The graph below shows the top six points of interest from the month of September 2022.

The graph below shows the top six points of interest from the month of September 2022.
The graph below shows the top six points of interest from the month of September 2022.(Hawaii News Now)

As you might expect, Kalakaua Avenue is the most visited place in the state, followed by Kailua Town, Upcountry Maui, Chinatown, Ala Moana Shopping Center and finally Ko Olina Resort.

All of those top six places are being mostly visited by residents.

Tourism industry expert and University of Hawaii Professor Dr. Jerry Agrusa explains why those numbers are still skewed toward residents in places like Waikiki and Ala Moana Center.

Agrusa says we still haven’t seen a big return of “shopping visitors.”

”We have the tourist and they are spending more money but they’re mostly from the U.S. mainland. We have a trickle of international visitors that have come in the last two, three months, but we still haven’t had that wave of specifically Japanese, which is our number one international market by far,” said Agrusa.

“In 2019, we had 1.6 million Japanese for the year. This month, we were in the thousands. It’s not even close. We’re not even 10% of where we were.”

So, where in the state are we seeing more visitors then residents?

On Maui, Front Street in Lahaina, Whalers Village Shopping Center, Kaanapali Kai Golf Course as well as Lahaina Market Place Shopping Center were visited more by residents.

On Oahu, residents are outnumbered by visitors at Dole Plantation, Kuhio Beach park, Pearl Harbor National Memorial and Fort DeRussy Beach Park.

The return of international visitors has been much slower than many in the tourism industry were hoping for. Many people may have thought when Japan recently lifted more COVID travel restrictions, Hawaii would have seen the floodgates open and the large scale return of Japanese visitors.

The state has seen them come back but no where near the numbers prior to the pandemic in 2019.

International travel data
International travel data(Hawaii News Now)

Japan is still our top market, but there were just a little over 24,000 visitors in September of this year — a more than an 83 percent drop compared to 2019.

”A lot of the Japanese book their travel six months in advance and because six months ago, there were still lock downs. So that’s why, they usually do long term visits. Also, the Yen is so weak against the American dollar. Last Sunday, it was 150 yen to the dollar, it should be 110 yen to the dollar. So you’ve got this exchange rate that has just gone way out of control for them,” added Agrusa.

He added another barrier for Japanese Tourists is the fuel surcharge Japanese airlines have to pay who in-turn pass those costs on to passengers.

For example, Japan Airlines tickets issued on or after Oct. 1 until the end of this month, a visitor coming to Hawaii would have to fork out an extra 37,400 Yen on top of the price of their ticket (roughly $260).

Finally, a closer look at Hawaii’s top domestic markets, those traveling here from the U.S. mainland.

If you spend much time on Kalakaua Avenue (Hawaii’s most visited point of interest) you’ll notice the majority of people walking the sidewalks are mostly Americans.

The graphic below shows the top ten states where visitors to Hawaii travel from.

Hawaii’s Top Domestic Markets
Hawaii’s Top Domestic Markets(Hawaii News Now)

It may be no surprise that California is number one. It’s the closest and shortest direct flight. This past September, more than 248,000 people visited from California.

A stark difference from the international numbers, all of these markets have increased this September compared to pre-pandemic September 2019.

While New York is at the bottom of this list, it’s still higher than a lot of other states. Despite a direct flight from JFK by Hawaiian Airlines and the direct United Airlines flight from Newark, only 11,007 people visited from New York in September. Still, Dr. Agrusa says Hawaii could see a surprise bump in visitors from the east coast this winter.

”Because a lot of folks were already planning to do their winter trip down to the warm Caribbean, you saw a number of hurricanes that hit the especially the big one that hit Florida a few weeks ago and today’s another hurricane warning. The hurricane season is really high in the Caribbean and people are saying you know what, I’ll pay a little extra, I’ll fly a little longer and I’ll go to a place where I don’t have to worry about a hurricane. If you saw the damage that was shown on the news in Florida, all that did was help Hawaii Tourism, especially from the East Coast,” Agrusa said.

Dr. Agrusa went on to say that despite inflation and other economic hardships brought on by the pandemic, many mainland Americans have disposable, vacation income, especially those working in the tech and health care industries.

For more visitor data from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, click here.